Review: The Doll by Taylor Stevens

The DollLooking for a book to fill the void in your action junkie heart left by the end of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series? If you are, then Taylor Stevens’ The Doll might be for you. With Vanessa Michael Monroe you get a smart, hard, kick-ass woman who rides a motorcycle who has a lot of mystery and danger in her life. In this book she takes on a very specialized international sex trade ring, not specifically by choice, but because they targeted her. There is a lot of backstory referenced and alluded to. I hadn’t realized that there were 2 other books before this one, but it didn’t take away from my understanding or motivations of characters that had already been built up and understood by series readers – and it didn’t spend too much time over explaining to catch me up.

With the holidays and holiday travel on the horizon – this is a good, fun book to read while giving your mind a vacay, like on a plane or lounging with an umbrella drink on the beach. So if holiday travel finds you on the beach (or maybe just wishing you were), you might want to add this to your list of fun reads.

* I received this book from the publisher

Review: Under Magnolia by Frances Mayes

Under MagnolaBack in 1997, Frances Mayes took readers to Tuscany in her bestselling book Under the Tuscan Sun, her writing really captured being in Italy and building a life for herself in a foreign country. With her latest book Under Magnolia, Mayes brings readers to where she was trying to escape from – the past of her Southern childhood. In this book Mayes confronts her past, taking readers inside her tumultuous childhood in a 1940s South, so think eccentric family members, tradition, big houses, hot summers and lots of food.

Mayes’ parents had a volatile relationship fueled by passion, hostility and alcohol. Her father became ill at a relatively young age, but lingered on through many of Mayes’ high school days. Once he died, her mother became more aimless, under the thumb of her father-in-law who cut her off from much of the money and spending she was used to. Mayes spent her childhood feeling different from her girly sisters, but soon seemed to blend her intelligence with a southern girlish flair. It is this young girl who tries to escape her family bonds off at college.

I wasn’t really certain what to expect and I have to say I greatly enjoyed this book. It had been so long since I read Under the Tuscan Sun, I really didn’t remember all that much about Mayes, but it didn’t matter. You don’t need to know who Mayes is to enjoy her story, which is told in vignettes. Aside from Mayes lovely writing, her stories were charming, sad, funny – a whole mix. There were some times that I got a little lost in the timeline, but once I fell back into the storytelling, I really didn’t care. I was just happy to have such a wonderful storyteller take me on her journey.

** I received this book (an uncorrected proof) from the publisher for review. **

 

Review: Divergent & Insurgent by Veronica Roth

DivergentA dystopian trilogy with a strong female lead character who makes sacrifices for the sake of her family – no I am not late to The Hunger Games party, this is also a look at the Divergent series by Veronica Roth. I read the first book Divergent back last year and see a review for the book is missing from my site (missing as in, I never wrote one — it must have been while I was taking my unannounced hiatus). I came to the series when a few friends posted about it on my Facebook call for a good summer read. And the book did fit the bill, I quickly feel into like with the heroine Beatrice, aka Tris. She’s cool, but uncertain and so she plays up being dark and sullen. If there were Emo in this undated future of the fallen apart Chicago society, she would totally be it.

I liked the concept that the book explored, a society that is divided by the type of personalty set that you are – if your main focus is book smarts and knowledge you are Erudite, selfless you are Abnegation, put truth above everything you are Candor, strive to keep the peace you are Amity and if you’re bold to the point of reckless you are Dauntless. Tris was raised in an Abnegation household, but at the time of choosing she chose to move to Dauntless. And in this society, you do sort of get to choose – you take an aptitude test (it’s the future so it’s a brain simulation and all very Matrix-like) and are told what you are meant for. Of course there is one other group that no one speaks of, they exist in old-wives tales – the Divergent, those who could fit into multiple groups, they really can’t be categorized.

I doubt I am really spoiling anything here (and if I am don’t read on …) but Tris is really Divergent. To avoid being found out as Divergent she chooses to advance her Dauntless tendencies, turning her back on her parents and brother.

OK, so that’s the set-up for Divergent. A showdown happens that brings us to the second in the series Insurgent, which picks up where Divergent ends. I have to be honest, I waited a few months in between and I already have a bad memory when it comes to many books. So, I was a little lost in the beginning because it didn’t have a great recap and at times I found myself being pretty far into the book before a little light bulb went off on some of the plot points. But that aside, I enjoyed this book and watching Tris develop and start to realize who she is as a person and not specifically a “type.” That doesn’t mean I always liked or agreed with who she was becoming – as a dystopian teen she has an overinflated sense of obligation over things.

I haven’t yet read the third and final book, Allegiant, but I have it and will get to it in the not too distant future. So while it’s not fair to judge the whole series yet, I’m going to say that it’s not as good as The Hunger Games — in the writing, flow, story, etc. — but it’s still an enjoyable YA series that explores important topics of personalty and control.

You might have heard the rumblings, or even seen a preview that Divergent will be a movie coming out this spring. I’m looking forward to seeing that. As I was reading it I could see that the story would translate well on the big screen, and I think this movie might be one of the few where I enjoy the movie better then the book, but all in all I am not disappointed in the time I am spending reading this series.

Reading Resolutions 2014

I am a resolution girl – I love setting goals for the new year, and at the end of the year seeing where I am. I don’t get overly upset if I haven’t met all of them, I celebrate what I have accomplished and re-evaluate for the next year. So now’s the time to make those 2014 resolutions.

1) Read 50 Books: Every year I aspire to read 50 books. I have never hit that number – what with school, work, my magazine obsession which takes away from book reading time. Another year to try and hit that goal again.

2) Blog More: Since coming back to the blog, I know my posts have been a little spotty and I haven’t been great about posting reviews. In 2014 I will review all the books I read for the blog, and post at least once a week.

3) “Books Around the World”: I’m a traveler – I love to travel the world, so in 2014 my bookshelf will too. Within my 50 books, and posting reviews for all the books I read for the blog I want to expand my international reading. So once a month I will read a book written from a writer in another country that has been translated into English. It will be a new regular feature to the blog, so if you would like to join along let me know. And let me know any personal favorites you have in this category.

That’s it. I want to be realistic, and I feel really good about these resolutions. I can’t wait to see what 2014 has in store. Thank you for being with my on my reading journey in 2013, and I look forward to sharing 2014 with you all.

Wishing you a very happy, healthy new year!

Happy Reading! xoxo

2013 in Books

Wow – where has 2013 gone? It has certainly been a wonderful year filled with many great things, including some good books. I didn’t hit my reading goal of 50, but I’m ok with that. I will have my reading resolutions post out soon but in the meantime I wanted to share with you some of my favorites and not-so favorites of 2013.

Best of 2013
I had two top favorites for this past year (sorry, I know a tie isn’t fair, but it’s my blog so I can do what I like, right). They are the two that I have been recommending to people.

The Age of MiraclesThe Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
I did write a review of this one for the site. Aside from my like of good post-apocalypse fiction, this book was a solid coming of age story that I really enjoyed.

 

The Snow ChildThe Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
I’m not sure what happened this summer that I didn’t get a review on the site, but this was such a wonderful book – a true adult fairytale. It’s winter now, grab this book and curl up with a cup of tea and a plate of cookies (I’m thinking speculoos).

And here’s a wildcard – one that wasn’t part of the tie, but still really good …

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern was also very charming and if you haven’t read it you probably should.

Overrated of 2013
Beautiful RuinsBeautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
Not that it wasn’t a good book. It was, and had some very interesting writing techniques, but I didn’t find it as great as I was expecting it to be. Here is my review.

I had a strong reading start, and then it got set back because of school, marathon training and such – but here’s my Goodreads list of many of the books I read this year.

How was your year. What was your favorite? What about one that you were expecting more out of?

Holiday Greetings and Readings

Hello Fellow Booklovers – My how I have missed you. I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday filled with family, friends and food.

I know, it’s been awhile. This semester of reading intensive work has kept me from being a good book blogger. I have been reading … a lot! Of course most of it is for school, but sometimes I find some time to read on my Kindle. I am still working my way through The Interestings (since I told you I started reading it in September, obviously some time isn’t that much time, yikes). It is a bit of a slow read, but so well-written I am enjoying the journey Wolitzer is taking me on.

I will be back more regularly soon, the semester finishes up soon and I have so many review books to read, in addition to lots of others I have bought or have been holding off buying til I knew I had time (yes that’s you I’m talking about Valley of Amazement). But I have missed you all so much, you will be seeing more of me on here in the coming days. In the meantime, what are you loving reading as we go into this holiday weekend?

Review: Sight Reading by Daphne Kalotay

Sight ReadingHazel and Nicholas have what others might view as a cosmopolitan life – Nicholas is a young (at least relatively), much sought-after conductor who has traveled across the world in posts at conservatories and orchestras. He is about the music, to the fault of everything else in his life, including his beautiful wife Hazel and their young daughter Jessie. Hazel is a presence that is both strong in being the glue that keeps the nomadic household together, and ghost-like in being a fading presence when she should be speaking up for herself and her needs. Then there is Remy, a young conservatory violin student who works very hard and is willing to do what it takes to try and break out of always being second best. Daphne Kalotay brings us a character study of these three very different people in her latest book Sight Reading.

After the first few chapters the characters, and this book, could have become a cliche once Nicholas discovers he has fallen in love with Remy. Instead, Kalotay develops them and gives them even more depth as we grow to understand who each of these people are. And what I enjoyed best about this book and Kalotay’s approach is that she does this without lots of drama, it is quiet and subtle, building – much like the symphonies that Nicholas directs and Remy performs. Even during what could be big, dramatic events there is no melodrama, just life and moving on. But it is not just the characters Kalotay develops that make this book so enjoyable to read, for me it is how she weaves Boston into the story (a place I dearly love) and her depth of knowledge of music and instruments that she shares make this a very robust, smart novel.

** I received this book as an uncorrected proof for review from the publisher, Harper.